Cottonballs. Yep.

By the staff of Trucks & Guns Magazine

There are so many different homemade fire starter techniques, is one really better then another? Not really—if it lights easily and holds a flame for over a minute it will work. We want to take a little time and show you the one we carry with us and why.

We use cotton balls, covered in Vaseline. It is so cheap and easy to make, most of you already have these two items in your house. If not, you can go to your local dollar store and for under $5 you can make about 100 of these. The most expensive part is the plastic container you need to store them in, but even those can be found for cheap or free. For example, we never throw away old pill bottles, because they are a great water resistant container. We use small photography film containers to store our cotton ball fire starters, but that is because as photographers we have them lying around in this digital world. You can still buy these on eBay for pretty cheap if you want to use them too.

Not only can this be used to start fires, but you can also use the Vaseline itself. It is nice to carry Vaseline in your medical bag, and you can use a little of the Vaseline off your fire starters without affecting the effectiveness of the fire starter. Vaseline can be use to help heal cuts and burns. It can moisturize chapped lips or dry skin, and it can help reduce chafing. Vaseline can shed water, or restore leather. With its petroleum base it makes a great lubricant for things like bow drills or stuck zippers. The list can go on and on.


Are other fire starters better then cotton balls covered in Vaseline? Better is a matter of personal preference. Sure, some will hold a flame longer, or put off a wider, or hotter flame. In the end it is about what works in your bag and what you like to use. Cotton balls are cheap, lightweight and they work for us.

Making these is really easy. The only thing you need to know is to keep the center of the cotton ball dry. You are not soaking the cotton ball in Vaseline, you are just coating the outside. When you are ready to use it, pull the cotton ball open, exposing the dry cotton inside and apply a spark. They light very quickly and easily, and last up to one minute and 30 seconds, throwing about a four-inch tall flame. Their downfall comes when it is raining; they need to stay mostly dry to work. They will work if it is just sprinkling but during full rainfall you will need to cover them.

Cheap Lightweight reliable fire starter

It is very likely that you already have all of the materials needed to make these cheap fire tinder balls. Cotton balls, Vaseline and something to put them in.

Cheap Lightweight reliable fire starter

Some people scoop out the Vaseline and apply it to the cotton balls, we just put the cotton balls in the container and roll the ball around.

Cheap Lightweight reliable fire starter

Store them in some type of air tight container, like pill bottles or a small jar. We used old film containers.

Cheap Lightweight reliable fire starter

When you are ready to use them just pull them out of your container.

Cheap Lightweight reliable fire starter

Pull open the cotton ball exposing the soft cotton inside that has not been coated in Vaseline.

Cheap Lightweight reliable fire starter

Apply a small spark and you have a flame! These light very easily and stay lit for about 90 seconds.